Producer responsibility 2.0 – for packaging in online retail and takeaway consumption


Everybody has to register and live up to their producer responsibility: the amended version of the Verpackungsgesetz (Packaging Act), which enters into force on 1 July 2022, is the legislator's answer to major shifts in the market that have had an impact on packaging. In pursuit of more transparency and fairness in the packaging recycling market, the amendments focus on online retail and takeaway consumption. Tens of thousands of registrations from China alone serve to show that the competitive playing field is indeed being levelled.

COVID-19 triggers sharp increase in online retail and takeaway consumption
The world is living through profound change, and packaging consumption reflects this: COVID-19 in particular has triggered a sharp increase in online retail and takeaway consumption. Consumers are making use of digital options, increasingly doing their shopping online. On the German parcels market, the pandemic has only served to accelerate an underlying growth trend. In 2020, the number of shipments exceeded the four billion mark for the first time. This increase in shipments matches the growing sales figures for e-commerce, where electronic marketplaces have been playing an increasingly important role.
A trend reversal is not to be expected – quite the opposite. Online retail and takeaway consumption bear witness to changes in society. At the same time, packaging for various goods is developing unfavourably. The war on plastics has given rise to the development of supposed paper packaging, which does not however make sense from a recycling perspective. The irreversible changes in packaging consumption pose a challenge for legislators. "The market for consumer goods and associated packaging has changed significantly over the past years. From the parties assuming producer responsibility to the units sold and the shipment – everything has grown. New materials are being used for packaging. Producer responsibility has to keep up with all of that," said Ms Gunda Rachut, Chair of the Zentrale Stelle Verpackungsregister (Central Agency Packaging Register – ZSVR) at a ZSVR press conference.

More transparency as everybody needs to register
No more exceptions: to achieve the waste hierarchy goals, a first step for the packaging recycling market needs to be made towards more transparency, fairness and a level playing field. The amendments to the Verpackungsgesetz and the extended registration requirement that comes along with them have paved a good part of the way. Every company that places packaged goods on the German market has to register in the public LUCID Packaging Register by no later than 1 July 2022, providing details about the type of packaging. Otherwise they must no longer distribute the goods in question. 
The new provisions also allow for the crucial importance that online retail has – and will continue to have – for consumer behaviour. "Many mail order companies have chosen to ignore the fact that they must pay for their packaging to be recycled. The new registration requirement increases the pressure on them to live up to their producer responsibility," said Ms Rachut. Electronic marketplaces will be required to check if the retailers using their platforms to sell goods have fulfilled their statutory obligations. If they have not, the marketplaces must no longer enable them to distribute their goods. A similar provision will enter into force for fulfilment service providers.
There are new provisions for takeaway packaging as well. In response to the development of the past years, and the boom in packaging for the takeaway market, the legislator has decided that distributors of pizza boxes, takeaway coffee cups, bakery bags, wraps at the butcher and all other packaging that is filled with goods at the point of sale or at markets ('service packaging') must register in the LUCID Packaging Register.

The Verpackungsgesetz – an international success story
Registration numbers in the LUCID Packaging Register have skyrocketed. This demonstrates that awareness concerning the obligations that the Verpackungsgesetz places on companies located in Germany and abroad has increased. More than 3,500 new registrations are being added every day. They come from the United States, United Kingdom and all other European countries; a disproportionately high share stems from Asia with its online retail industry. This is clear evidence that the regulations are indeed levelling the playing field. "It has been shown once more that Germany has been setting international standards with the Verpackungsgesetz and LUCID, the online packaging register, laying the groundwork for producer responsibility 2.0," said Ms Rachut.

Conclusion and outlook
The amended version of the Verpackungsgesetz is not the end of the road. Significant changes can be expected in the near future, in particular at a European level. The European Union is revising its Packaging Directive to presumably include targets for reuse, defined standards for packaging recyclability as well as an enhanced use of recyclates. This will present manufacturers and retailers with challenges as they will need to prepare for new reporting obligations, for example. To strike a balance between environmental protection, fair competition and efficiency, adoption of the lean online solution provided by the German packaging register is to be recommended.